WIRED Endorses Optimism
WIRED has never been neutral.
For nearly a quarter of a century, this organization has championed a specific way of thinking about tomorrow. If it’s true, as the writer William Gibson once had it, that the future is already here, just unevenly distributed, then our task has been to locate the places where various futures break through to our present and identify which one we hope for.
Our founders—Louis Rossetto, Jane Metcalfe, and Kevin Kelly—all supported a strain of optimistic libertarianism native to Silicon Valley. The future they endorsed was the one they saw manifested in the early Internet: one where self-organizing networks would replace old hierarchies. To them, the US government was one of those kludgy, inefficient legacy systems that mainly just get in the way.
Over the past couple of decades, we’ve gotten to watch their future play out: We’ve seen the creative energies of countless previously invisible communities unleashed—and, well, we’ve watched networks become just as good at concentrating wealth and influence in the hands of a few people as the old hierarchies were. We’ve seen geeks become billionaires, autocrats become hackers, and our readers (people curious about how technology is shaping the world) become the American mainstream. Like any sane group of thinkers, we’ve calibrated our judgments along the way. But much of our worldview hasn’t changed. We value freedom: open systems, open markets, free people, free information, free inquiry. We’ve become even more dedicated to scientific rigor, good data, and evidence-driven thinking. And we’ve never lost our optimism.
I bring all this up because, for all of its opinions and enthusiasms, WIRED has never made a practice of endorsing candidates for president of the United States. Through five election cycles we’ve written about politics and politicians and held them up against our ideals. But we’ve avoided telling you, our readers, who WIRED viewed as the best choice.
Today we will. WIRED sees only one person running for president who can do the job: Hillary Clinton.
Right now we see two possible futures welling up in the present. In one, society’s every decision is dominated by scarcity. Except for a few oligarchs, nobody has enough of anything. In that future, we build literal and figurative walls to keep out those who hope to acquire our stuff, while through guile or violence we try to acquire theirs.
In the other future, the one WIRED is rooting for, new rounds of innovation allow people to do more with less work—in a way that translates into abundance, broadly enjoyed. Governments and markets and entrepreneurs create the conditions that allow us to take effective collective action against climate change. The flashlight beam of science keeps turning up cool stuff in the corners of the universe. The grand social experiments of the 20th and early 21st centuries—the mass entry of women into the workforce, civil rights, LGBTQ rights—continue and give way to new ones that are just as necessary and unsettling and empowering to people who got left out of previous rounds. And the sustainably manufactured, genetically modified fake meat tastes really good too.
Our sights might not be perfectly aligned, but it’s pretty clear Hillary Clinton has her eye on a similar trajectory. She intends to uphold the Paris Agreement on climate change and reduce carbon emissions by up to 30 percent in 2025. She hopes to produce enough renewable energy to power every American home by the end of her first term. She wants to increase the budgets of the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, two major drivers of research and innovation via government funding. And she wants to do the same for Darpa, the defense research agency—without which, let’s face it, WIRED probably wouldn’t exist, because no one would have invented the things we cover.
Clinton also has ideas that clear away stumbling blocks for entrepreneurs and strivers. She proposes linking entrepreneurship to forgiveness of student loans, as a way to help young people start businesses. Clinton favors net neutrality—giving every packet of data on the Internet the same priority, regardless of whether they originate from a media corporation or from you and me. She has proposed easier paths to legal immigration for people with science, technology, and engineering degrees. And she has spent my entire adult life trying to work out how to give the maximum number of Americans access to health care; she will continue to strengthen the Affordable Care Act, which among other things has helped people walk away from crappy, dead-end jobs by alleviating the fear that they’ll lose their insurance.
We don’t always agree with Clinton. As secretary of state, her inclination toward military solutions had disastrous consequences in the Middle East, and the US still has an alarming tendency to try to solve complex foreign policy problems with flying killer robots. Her specific position on encryption is tough to pin down, but she seems to favor encryption weak enough for law enforcement to penetrate. That violates basic privacy.
But having met Clinton and talked about all these issues with her, I can tell you that her mastery of issues and detail is unlike that of any politician I’ve met. She comes to every policy conversation steeped in its history and implications, and with opinions from a diverse set of viewpoints. She is a technician, and we like technicians.
Now, it’s true: Engineers, the heroes of WIRED, often misunderstand politics. They tend to confuse political problems with technological ones (because those are the ones they know how to solve), and they get impatient with the inefficiency, ugliness, and open-endedness of governing. If you think WIRED’s ideal future is an engineer’s future, you’ve misread us, and I apologize for being unclear. Making policy based on ideas, science, evidence, and compromise—as we believe Hillary Clinton will do—is not an approach to building a fully optimized system. When human beings are involved, optimization is asymptotic; you aim for it but never reach it. Clinton’s approach is merely prudent.
It’s also skillful. Among those who’ve worked with her, Clinton is renowned for how well she listens and works in teams. And of course her inauguration would start to remedy a certain hiring bias that the nation’s HR department—the electorate—has displayed over the past 241 years.
Her campaign has been trying to incept us with these ideas for months now, of course: Her vision is bright and forward-looking; Donald Trump’s is dark and atavistic. She’s qualified, she knows the material; Trump is all bluster. We happen to believe that for all the barbs aimed at Hillary Clinton—the whole calculating, tactical, Tracy Flick enchilada—she is the only candidate who can assess the data, consult with the people who need to be heard, and make decisions that she can logically defend. Sure, she’s calculating. She’s tactical. There are worse things you can ask of a person with nuclear codes.
Perhaps you feel like this is a low bar: Support a candidate because she believes in science? Get behind a politician because she approaches policymaking like a professional? Maybe you were hoping to be more inspired. We think the opportunity presented to us is more than inspiring enough. The country can go one of two ways, right now: toward a future where working together in good faith has a chance, or toward nihilism.
Trump’s campaign started out like something from The Onion. Now it has moved into George Orwell–as–interpreted–by–Paul Verhoeven territory. When he isn’t insulting the parents of a dead soldier, or promising to build an impossible wall between the US and Mexico to keep out rapists, or advocating a ban on Muslims, he’s saying that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are the founders of ISIS, or that “Second Amendment people” should do something about his opponent, or that he watched a nonexistent video of a plane delivering cash to Iran. And that’s mostly stuff he said in the space of a few weeks.
When Trump beats up on Clinton for her misuse of a private email server as secretary of state—an egregious mistake that the head of the FBI called “extremely careless”—we hear him. But when Trump goes on to ask Russian hackers to continue their apparent assaults on an American election by finding more of Clinton’s emails, even as a wan joke, he takes the side of the arsonists while attacking his opponent for a fire code violation. When he says the press is corrupt and the electoral system is rigged, he’s not acting like someone who wants to lead. He’s acting like someone who demands to be followed.
Ultimately, it’s impossible to judge Trump’s claims as actual statements of belief or intention. We don’t know if President Trump would totally renege on that Paris commitment or actually pursue his policy of Muslim exclusion; but we have to assume he’ll try. We have no way of knowing if he actually believes that vaccines cause autism, as he claimed in a debate, but they don’t. Does he really think that wind power kills “all your birds”? Who knows. But it doesn’t; cats kill all your birds.
Here’s the thing about Donald Trump: In his 14 months as a political candidate, he has demonstrated an utter indifference to the truth and to reality itself. He appears to seek only his own validation from the most revanchist, xenophobic crowds in America. He is trolling, hard.
When we say we’re optimistic, it isn’t just because we can point you to a trove of evidence that we’re all very, very lucky to be alive right now: We live longer, we’re less violent, and there’s less extreme poverty than at any time in human history. And it’s not just because optimism is endemic to Silicon Valley, though that’s also true. It’s because of the way optimism conditions how people act in the world. As Stewart Brand, one of our heroes, once described in these pages, people behave better when they think things are improving: “If you truly think things are getting worse, won’t you grab everything you can, while you can? Reap now, sow nothing. But if you think things are getting better, you invest in the future. Sow now, reap later.”
Of course it would be glib for privileged people like us to expect everyone to just buck up about tomorrow. The future isn’t the only thing that’s unevenly distributed in the present: so are wealth, influence, skills, and other deep-seated advantages. So are fears. It’s easy to celebrate the digital revolution when it has enriched the 40 square blocks surrounding your office; less so when you’ve seen your wages stagnate over the past 35 years. It’s natural to welcome social justice when it vests you in American culture and not, I suppose, when it tells you that you’ve been the problem all along. We don’t blame people for worrying about their future. But we think most Americans recognize that it’s important to have leaders who believe things get better from here—who want to build things other than barriers.
Besides, Donald Trump’s supporters aren’t even the people who have been most left behind by globalism and technology. Consider that, institutionally, Trump has no better remaining friend than the National Rifle Association, whose industry leaders have profited enormously from the climate of fear and paranoia surrounding mass shootings. And according to a recent study of Trump supporters by Gallup—the most extensive one yet—the candidate’s rank-and-file fans are in fact wealthier than average and less likely to live in areas affected by immigration and trade. The most charitable explanation is that they are afraid their children will lose ground. But let’s be clear: What these Americans stand to lose is nothing compared to the threat their political movement now poses to millions of African-Americans, Muslims, and immigrants, who experience the rise of Trumpism as an immediate menace to their families.
The person who has the least to lose is Trump, who has a long history of walking away relatively unscathed from things he’s destroyed.
So no, WIRED has never been neutral. But now we’re declaring our alignment—one shared by an overwhelming number of tech leaders. The newsroom will continue to do critical, fair journalism about both candidates and the world around us. We’ll keep fighting for the future instead of for the past. And part of that fight is endorsing Hillary Clinton for president.
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